JOPLIN, Mo. —
As summer changes to winter, so comes the season of influenza, or simply, the flu. The annual rollout of the influenza vaccine seems to help.
As autumn welcomes the holiday season, so comes for many people a time of grief, for which there is no vaccine.
As the changes in weather patterns seem to make us more susceptible to the flu, the traditions, memories and celebrations of the holidays make us more susceptible to unresolved grief. The specialness of the holiday season brings into sharp focus the loss for which we grieve, and grief resumes its unfinished but important work.
Grief is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret. It is a universal experience.
The significance of the loss determines the degree of grief. Loss of a significant person, a job, a career or a pet will usher in the process we call grief.
The universality of grief is an absolute. It strikes the most and the least educated, the oldest and the youngest, the wealthiest and the poorest, every tribe and every nation.
While grief comes to everyone, not everyone grieves the same. We have learned that there is a pattern to the process, but within that pattern, there are multiple personalities of grief. By that, I mean we process grief with some degree of uniqueness.
It is therefore not surprising to find a plethora of tips and suggestions about handling grief.
So to this cache of material, I'll add my two cents' worth. However, I will not dispense "six simple steps to solving sadness" or suggest "14 tips for handling grief."
From my own experience with grief and in listening to many shared thoughts, I have come to think of grief as a servant rather than an enemy, as health rather than weakness.
As pain is beneficial and should not be overlooked, so also is grief. It assists in the processing of loss, in adapting to the altered paths which occasionally must be taken.
To be sure, grief is an exacting servant which dispenses tough love in its demand that we process rather than suppress, that we adapt rather than escape.
Grief is a wizened servant who understands the risks and problems of unresolved loss. When grief climbs the stairs to the lofts of our emotions, there is a reason, and we do well to listen.
I also have concluded that we should be more concerned with listening to our own instincts than listening to the advice of others.
Instincts are God-given and serve an invaluable purpose. With a little help and some understanding, we can learn to trust those instincts, and they will serve us well. They are uniquely ours, and therefore they relate to our own unique way of doing things.
This does not mean that friends, and sometimes professionals, are not important and helpful. They are, and sometimes they are necessary.Ê
But know this: Even our best friends, with the best of intentions, can get in our way. This becomes very clear when we consider Job's friends as described in the Old Testament, as they came offering comfort to Job in his grief.
They sit with him for seven days, not speaking. Gentle, quiet presence is always welcomed.
It is only when they begin to speak that confusion reigns and problems develop. They have their own agendas, their own understandings of how Job should adjust. In spite of them, Job works through his grieving.
Good friends are a gift. And so is good grieving.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.